After 20 years, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office is still running its annual S.T.A.R. Camp, aimed at bringing underprivileged youth outdoors while teaching them about gang prevention, Internet safety and other issues.
S.T.A.R. Camp was inspired by an Indiana State Police “Respect for Law” camp. The first camp was held in 1994 at the Boy Scout Cutter Scout Reservation. It hosted 60 fifth-graders from the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County, Woodside and East Palo Alto and only involved Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., students during its first summer session. This summer, it had almost 150 campers.
“Combining Boy Scout traditional camp activities with law enforcement topics and programs, groups are led by deputy sheriffs to show the children from our communities that we are people too,” said San Mateo County sheriff’s Deputy Rebecca Rosenblatt. “We present a positive image so the children could connect with people in law enforcement and to know the person behind the badge.”
Today, Sheriff’s Office personnel and campers trek to YMCA Camp Loma Mar for a week-long camping trip. This trip provides the children an opportunity to experience the outdoors and enjoy a brief respite from the stress of inner city life with activities like ziplining and performing on stage. Programs in the camp include gang and drug awareness, Hug-A-Tree, the Explorer Program and cyber safety.
Campers, ranging from fifth- to eighth-grade, come from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and are recruited from the middle schools in the unincorporated areas and now the cities of San Carlos, Half Moon Bay and Millbrae. Families pay a token fee for the camp. The camp is underwritten by donations from individuals, companies and foundations to the Sheriff’s Youth Programs Fund as well as through proceeds of the North Fair Oaks Community Festival.
Initially, law enforcement explorers were used as youth staff, but this has been expanded to former campers and other high school leaders. Sheriff’s Office staff get to be adult leaders, including Correctional Officer Patrick Lucy, who is also a trustee on the South San Francisco Unified School District board. He has been with the camp for about 13 years.
“You literally you end up making new friends with these kids,” he said. “It’s a very memorable experience. … They get to be themselves.”
Lucy keeps in touch with past campers, he added.
The camp occurs every summer. For more information on S.T.A.R. Camp and other Sheriff’s Office community activities, go to smcsheriff.com/communities-we-serve/community-activities.